As I girl, I lived on the side of a Virginia mountain and walked a mile to and from my school bus stop daily. Well, on the way home I walked. In the morning I flew down the mountain with my books clutched to my chest and my scarf trailing behind me, in fear of missing the school bus. The route was rural, and despite such perils as an aggressive billy goat, black snakes that tended to be invisible until you were right on top of them and an ill-tempered goose who thought I came too close to her nest on one occasion, I prized my walking time. I could be alone with my thoughts, observe the world around me and get some exercise at the same time.
Shut off the car and burn your own fuel
Today, we spend more time in cars than walking to our destinations. In the U.S., 38% of adults are obese, with another third of us overweight. Part of this is the couch potato phenomenon, where the absence of cows to milk and fences to repair keeps us inactive in front of the television, computer or game system. Another reason could be our tendency to be behind-the-wheel potatoes, where the “need” to get from one point to the other as fast as possible makes us dependent on cars. (1)
Hippocrates, the Greek physician who coined the Hippocratic Oath, said that “Walking is man’s best medicine.” Modern studies have proven him right. A regular walking regimen protects us from heart disease, dementia, obesity, diabetes, depression and colon cancer. (2) Walking stops bone mass loss in women with osteoporosis, lowers blood pressure, decreases stroke risk, lessens arthritis pain and slows down cartilage deterioration in joints, increases range of motion, improves muscles strength, relieves insomnia and releases endorphins that lift our mood. (3) Yes, it does all that. All these proven benefits of walking beg the question that Ponce de León should have even pursued his quest for the fountain of youth, opting for a regular regimen of brisk walking instead.
Are you a fan of the planet? Want to wear your environmentalism proudly? Make a point of walking as often as you can to nearby errands. It is estimated that 40% of all household car trips are less than two miles — a 30 minute walk, at a brisk pace. (4) Private vehicles are the biggest contributors to the planet’s household carbon emissions, and the first few minutes of operating a car account for 60% of all the emissions created by the car on a given drive. (5) This means that shorter trips create more pollution per mile. Walk them instead, and show your planet (and lungs) a little love.
No time to walk?
With every minute accounted for in our busy lives, it is hard to schedule in an extra 30 minutes for an errand that would only take 10 in the car. In order to find time to walk:
- Look ahead at errands for the week, and build in a walk. The walk can replace your exercise for the day, or just be a bonus workout. If you do not live close enough to any errands to venture out on foot, park a mile or two from your destination and walk from there. Or park at one store and walk to other stores on your list that are within a couple of miles.
- No errands today? Build a walk into your wait time. Do a few laps around the park where your kid has soccer practice. Take a brisk walk while you wait for your oil change or minor car repair.
- Take the stairs! Climbing stairs is better exercise than walking, in that peak exertion is reached faster on stairs than walking a steep incline. Walking up five flights will burn calories 2 to 3 times faster than walking briskly for the same amount of time. (2)
Read on for more walking info:
12 benefits of walking
Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
Walking posture tips
- Ciciora P. Study: Surge in obesity correlates with increased automobile usage. Illinois News Bureau: Illinois.edu. May 11, 2011. Accessed Jan 25, 2017.
- Walking: Your steps to health. Harvard Health Pubilcations: Harvard Men’s Health Watch. Aug 2009. Accessed Jan 24, 2017.
- 12 Benefits of walking. Arthritis Foundation website. Accessed Jan 24, 2017.
- iWalk toolkit. Wellness Center: University of Illinois. Accessed Jan 25, 2017.